Jane Haining was a Church of Scotland missionary to the Jews, from Dunscore, Dumfries. She worked in Budapest, where she was arrested by the Nazis in 1944. She died in the concentration camp at Auschwitz later that year.
We know that everything has a beginning. The Bible tells us of the very first beginning: ‘In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth’. God had no beginning, but he began everything for his own glory and for our good.
The mission that Jane Haining went to serve in Budapest, Hungary, began almost 100 years before she went there. Her job was to look after the Jewish girls in the school, where they not only worked hard at their lessons, but where they slept in shared rooms and where they had their food.
Origin of the mission
In the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1839, it was decided that the Church would look for a place to begin to tell Jewish people about their Messiah, whom we know by the personal name that the Lord God gave to him — you will ‘call his name Jesus [Saviour] for he shall save his people from their sins’.
The assembly that year decided that they would send out some ministers to find a suitable place where this mission could begin. There is a most wonderful book written by two of these ministers, called Mission of discovery, the beginnings of modern Jewish evangelism.
The two men who wrote it were Rev. Andrew Bonar and Rev. Robert Murray M’Cheyne. What wonderful adventures they had; what amazing people they met; what interesting customs they found on the journey! They met many Jewish people and, on their return, the Church decided that the best place to begin would be in Hungary.
Hungary at that time was a Roman Catholic country and, in those days, Protestant missions were not allowed. However, a new bridge had been ordered to cross the Danube river in Budapest and a Scottish engineer was to be in charge, and many men went out from Scotland to work on that bridge.
The bridge was called the Chain Bridge or the Adam Clark Bridge, after the engineer in charge. It’s a most marvellous bridge that took a long time to build, and the workmen that went out from Scotland were allowed to have their own minister.
For the mission work proper, however, one minister, Rev. Daniel Edward, was sent to Moldavia; and then, a few months later, Rev. Dr John Duncan with two others was sent out to Budapest.
Dr Duncan was a very wise, kind, careful and very clever man, who would preach to the Jewish men in Latin. They recognised that he knew a great deal about many different subjects and so they called him ‘Rabbi’ Duncan. Rabbi means ‘teacher’ and I am sure you will remember that this was one of the names that was given by the people to the Lord Jesus, who taught them about God and the way to heaven.
Church history can be very confusing. In 1843, the Church of Scotland became two churches and, to avoid misunderstanding, the second was called the Free Church of Scotland. It was this Church that continued to support the mission and began the school with Christian teaching for Jewish girls.
By the time Jane Haining went out, however, the mission was again looked after by the Church of Scotland, which continued to care for this very special and much loved school, until communism swept through Hungary.
Jewish people loved learning and a good education was important for them. However, in those days they weren’t too keen on teaching the girls and that is why the missionaries opened the school to them.
When Rabbi Duncan was in Budapest, there was a German Jewish man who had become a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. He went around selling Bibles. This Christian man’s surname was Victor, a very common name among Jewish people in those days.
His son, grandson, great grandson and great, great grandson were all photographed together with him, and all became ministers in the Hungarian Reformed Church, except for the last born.
However, the brother of the great, great grandson became a minister. He is called Istvan (Stephen) Victor and is a very special friend. He was minister in a little town called Hejce, and then in Sarospatak, until he retired. It can’t be often that you find five generations all in the same photograph. Of course the oldest was really old and the youngest was really young, about two. But five generations in one photograph!
Now one of these five ministers was headmaster of the school for nearly 40 years, from about 1880 to 1920. I met his daughter. Her husband had been a minister too. It was this brave lady who, because she spoke German, went to the prison where Jane Haining was first imprisoned, to do what she could for Jane.
Jane, however, was sent with her much loved Jewish people to die in the dreadful concentration camp. It was through this lady that I met two other ladies who were two of the girls that Jane Haining looked after. They had become Christians because of what Jane Haining taught them about her Saviour, and the kindness of her love to them, and how she tried to protect them. They knew that Jane loved them so much.
The missionaries from Rabbi Duncan onwards showed so much love to the Jewish people, because of the teaching of the Old Testament, which is of course the Jewish Bible and the older part of the Christian Bible.
This ‘collection of books’, from Genesis to Malachi, shows us that the Jewish Messiah or Saviour would be born of a virgin in Bethlehem and that he would become the only Saviour of all, both Jew and Gentile, who put their trust in him.
The Old Testament also shows us that Jesus is not only a man, but that he is the very Son of God, and so he is fully God and fully man; a miracle that we believe, even if we cannot understand it.
Of course, our Bible has been completed by the New Testament, which shows us that all the things that were foretold about Jesus came to pass. The missionaries also showed the Christian church at that time how to love the Jews, and care for them, until many years later they hid hundreds of them from the concentration camps.
This dear lady, who was very nearly put into prison herself because she went to ask for Jane Haining and take her food and clean clothing, told me two amazing stories.
By the time Jane was imprisoned, and possibly before she was sent to Auschwitz, a Jewish ghetto had been set up in a poor area of Budapest. There these dear folks were forcefully herded together and kept in appalling circumstances.
Soon many were dying, and, so as not to alert the non-Jews, the dead were brought out in coffins in the small hours of the morning. The parents of the Jewish girls had brought them to the school, hoping against hope that they would be safe there, but they were found and put into the ghetto.
What were they to do? Christian doctors provided chloroform and the Jewish people provided gold that they had hidden away. The gold was used to bribe the undertakers and the chloroform was used to put the girls to sleep.
They were all brought to safety in coffins and quickly taken to Christian families (especially those in the countryside), who looked after them until the war was over. All of them survived that dreadful, unspeakable experience, but none of them at the time knew that they had been brought to safety in coffins.
How thankful Jane would have been to the Lord her God for sparing their lives! My heart was full of my own heartfelt thanks to God when I met in person two of these girls, then in their late 50s.
Man with flaming sword
From time to time, church buildings and manses were raided by the Germans, because it was known that the Christians were hiding Jews.
One day, without warning, a German officer and many soldiers arrived at Kalvin Church in Kalvin Square, in Budapest. It’s a large, beautiful old church.
That day, a group of Jews had been hurriedly gathered and hidden in the back of the church, until they could be taken secretly to families who would hide them, and give them shelter and food.
While the minister and his people were trying to plan where to take them and how, the officer with the soldiers burst into the building. They quickly drove everyone outside, except the Jews who were still hidden. The Christians waited full of pain and fear, because they knew the dear folks they were trying to save would be put into the ghetto, or sent to a concentration camp and the gas chambers, or even shot there and then.
While they waited, they prayed; and suddenly the large doors of the church flew open and the officer and his soldiers ran out with ashen faces, terrified. All they could say was that the man with the flaming sword stood at the back of the building. In their fear they had even dropped their guns. Jewish people are very special to God, even to this day.
Jane Haining gave her life for love of God’s still-special people. The first disciples were all Jews. Paul, the great apostle who was sent to the Gentiles (non-Jews) to preach Jesus the Messiah and him crucified, was a Jew.
As Christians we find our reason to love the Jew in many places in the Bible, places such as Paul’s words in Romans 10:1: ‘Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved’, and in Psalm 105:13-15: ‘When they went from one nation to another, from one kingdom to another people: God suffered no man to do them wrong: yea, he reproved kings for their sakes; saying, Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm’.
That dear lady, who shared these remarkable happenings of God’s protection of his ancient people, also spoke of the early days of the mission in Budapest and of the work of the early missionaries, especially of the preaching of the gospel by ‘Rabbi’ Duncan.
At one such meeting, an elderly Jew of 72 years was converted to Christ, at the same time as his 12-year-old son. The son, Adolph Saphir, would later become a Presbyterian minister in England.
She spoke of him and his writings. ‘Do you know his lectures on Hebrews?’ she asked. ‘Yes, I used them in our college library when I was a student’. She then produced a two-volume unmarked copy, which she said Adolph Saphir gave in person to her husband who had died some years previously.
As I held them in my hands, in awe at the Lord’s goodness in bringing many sons of Abraham after the flesh to become his spiritual sons by faith in Jesus Christ, she asked me, would I like to have them. I couldn’t find words to answer her.
That dear little soul took my head in her two hands and brought it to her shoulder. She patted me, and said, ‘I think the Lord wants you to have them’. I have read them and used them and they are treasured books among others in my study.
There are those today who maintain that the mission was not an evangelistic one, at least not by the time Jane Haining began her life’s work. The Christian Witness to Israel and other such missions would maintain that it was.
From personal contact with the Victor family, and others in Hungary who had first-hand knowledge of the mission over five generations, I cannot accept the view that the mission Jane Haining served was little more than a humanitarian one. That view is rather the result of the theological liberalism that, alas, has increasingly taken hold of much of the Reformed church.
Rev. William B. Scott visited Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and the Ukraine almost every year from 1971 until 1998, preaching in many different churches, via an interpreter. He had a break from these visits when he and his wife served as missionaries in Peru. In the latter years of visiting Eastern Europe, he helped to organise the setting up of the Lydia Children’s Home in the large Romanian town of Tirgu (or Targu) Mures, or, as it is known by ethnic Hungarians, Marosvasarhely. This was probably the first non-state children’s home in Romania, and certainly the first to be set up, maintained and run by Christians from the Hungarian Reformed Church. This article was first published in Free Church Witness, the magazine of the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing,) and is used here with kind permission.